BLUES AT BRIDGETOWN – November 10-12, 2017
Review & photography by Shane Pinnegar
We’re back in Bridgetown for our annual pilgrimage to The Blues. A scant three-hour drive South of Perth, this idyllic location this year hosts the TWENTY-FIFTH edition of their iconic festival: a uniquely not-for-profit, volunteer-run event attracting far too many cool musicians to spend a moment longer than necessary relaxing after driving through the glorious 33ºC spring heat.
Our first stop is the Freemason’s Hotel, built in 1904, for Two Dollar Dog, who deliver some eminently danceable blues originals that get the crowd jiving, playing homemade instruments such as a shovel and cigar box guitars and a baritone ukulele.
Over at the Festival Club Ten Cent Shooters – a trio who formed the same year as the first Blues at Bridgetown – play authentic acoustic blues from the likes of Mississippi John Hurt, with an Appalachian/country edge while an awestruck crowd sit in respectful appreciation.
In addition to the multitude of local venues up and down the B-Town main strip, we’re treated to a proliferation of excellent buskers in every available nook and cranny. On the side of the road we caught a few acoustic blues covers from Charlie Scott – proudly displaying a sign explaining that his appearance was an exercise in teaching his daughter a lesson in overcoming one’s fears – and his harmonica-playing friend. Later we’d see some raw and gritty Doors covers from Shakey Ground, and more besides.
Down the other end of town at Nelson’s, Marisa & Mark dealt out a surprisingly adroit serve of jazzy cool – surprising only in that we’re more used to seeing Mark de Vattimo tearing up a Fying V with metal legends Voyager or Psychonaut, than playing supper club jazz with sultry vocalist wife, Marisa. Nailed it.
The huge Geegelup area played host to alt-folk duo Hussy Hicks and band, featuring tracks from their new album and previous offerings including Lucky Joe’s Wine. So excited were they to appear that Julz Parker wrecked her faithful acoustic guitar during opening song, Mutiny.
On to Scott’s for the energetic duo Blackwood Rising, delivering traditional blues with a souped up White Stripes-meets-The-Stones edge and a raucous attitude. Dancers danced, drinkers drank, and a good time was had by all.
Back at The Freemason’s Tracey Barnett is ripping some wonderful soul filled tunes from new album Heart, Soul, Feeling, accompanied by Steve Richter’s dynamic percussion and didge playing.
The Blue Owl’s Nest amphitheatre hosts Toby Beard and band, injecting her much-loved originals and covers with soulful gospel, rootsy rock and country feel – often all at the same time. Dancing around the stage you’d never guess she was still recovering from a broken bone in her foot, sustained on one of her many recent tours of Europe, and her charismatic connection with the crowd is as endearing as her music. Proudly declaring that her love for her wife is completely independent of the outcome of this country’s “bullshit plebiscite,” she’s a festival favourite from the word go, promising very different sets at all three of her weekend appearances. This one culminates in an amazing and heartbreaking Utah, and the raucous folk punk stomp of Welcome Back To the Good Old Days.
There’s a lot more going on throughout Bridgetown that we simply didn’t get the time to see. Every rendezvous with a familiar face leads to discussion about some other act they caught which blew their socks off – Little Georgia; Luke Dux & Atomic Lunchbox; Tom Fisher & The Layabouts; Bondi Cigars; Moondog Blues Band and The Southern River Band are all raved about by one festival goer or another, and notes are made for our travels tomorrow while watching the retro blues rocking Zach Linton.
Friday is for the faithful, but Saturday is the big one: Party Day at Blues At Bridgetown, complete with a street party that closes off the main strip, throngs of people of all ages, and everyone is an honorary local, no matter how far they’ve blown in from. Armed with tips and recommendations and our own personal favourites, we have a busy day ahead.
Weaving through suburban shoppers looking for arts and crafts, kids licking ice creams, and crusty bikers snacking on beef ribs and lamb satay sticks and frozen yoghurts in between acts on the main stages, we catch a few of the local acts playing the street stages and busking enthusiastically. The Youth Stage on Steere Street features groups from local school communities giving it their all, and no doubt many of these kids will play Bridgetown in their own right in years to come.
Local folkstress Mary Myfanwy again allures with her siren call vocals and entrancing guitar; Two Dollar Dog are caught rocking it up in style; Dan Howls rocked solidly, showing the dark blues style that won him Nannup Music Festival’s Emerging Artist Award upon his live debut last year; Michael Triscari’s solo blues is another hit with the passers-by, many of whom stopped for a groove; Tracey Barnett again enthralled with her soulful vocals and heartfelt songs; Marisa & Mark shared their smooth jazz licks for one and all; and the South West, West Coast and Hills Blues Clubs all attracted a big crowd.
Our first stop is at the Blue Owl’s Nest for Martin Lee Cropper’s Robert Johnson-styled solo blues, the perfect start to a long, hot day. From there, Blackwood Rising had the Festival Club crowd grooving to some choice Black Keys, CW Stoneking and Gary Clarke Jr tracks, pumping out enviable energy levels and good-natured Dad jokes for the already scorching 35-degree Celsius B-Town mid-morning, and their eponymous Blackwood Rising stands tall amongst the covers.
All stages stopped for a minute’s silence at 11am in Remembrance of those fallen defending our way of life, the respectful gesture embraced by all with the silence briefly enveloping the town warmly.
Scene veteran Jim Fisher, first here in 2003, gathered together a bunch of friends for the weekend’s performances, including two sons and drummer Howie Johnstone, delivering a set of good time blues n’ roll. Their exuberance thankfully drowned out most of the noise bleed from the neighbouring Bridgetown Hotel, with Fisher & Friends playing Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmie Rogers and originals with effortless, nonchalant Keith Richards cool and a similar ‘70s country-peppered rock feel. It’s the perfect casual rock feel for grabbing up a patch of shady ground and getting mellow down easy to.
At the Bridgetown Pub Minnie Marks is making her, erm, mark with raw vocals and emotional acoustic guitar playing, bolstered by harmonica and violin, captivating many with a mesmerising, committed performance.
Geegelup – which in Noongar tongue means either ‘place of the gilgies’, a freshwater crustacean of the area, or ‘place of the spears’ – is similarly enthralled at the sparse and emotionally searing blues of Little Georgia. Self-described as “folk-grunge,” the duo combine Ashleigh Mannix’s raw, tear-bleeding vocals and Justin Carter’s guitar dexterity for an eclectic batch of tunes. Slicing and roaring one song, then mandolin-based country stomp the next, they carry echoes of a souped-up Dolly Parton, Neil Young rawness and West Coast harmonies and emotional depth through their engaging set.
Chances are, if you’ve seen any WA blues rock bands over the years, you’ll have seen the various members of BB & Co, and this new combo – who only came together early this year – feature a mix of covers (I Can’t Stand The Rain, The Allman Brother’s Soul Shine) and originals from their just-released debut, Let It Shine. An R&B combo in the old-fashioned sense of the word, BB & Co are all about rhythm and blues, with exemplary playing, three lead vocalists, and a piano/guitar-led sound full of life and emotion.
Carus Thompson owns the Geegelup stage every time he walks out, barefooted, onto it, this time performing tracks both solo and with a crack band including Tom Fisher & Howie Johnstone. With some clouds providing welcome respite from the scorcho heat, groovers grooved to the wistful Caravan and Tony Abbott-inspired Lies, before the reggae good times of Today Is A Gift brought an excellent set to a happy close.
Remember that Spiderbait video of their version of Ram Jam’s Black Betty? The one where Kram is driving his drum kit like a hot rod? Z Star Delta sound like that video looked: Nitrous-injected hyper-blues that spiritually hail from the Mississippi Delta, but are physically from Brighton, England. A duo with an astonishingly huge sound, Z Star Delta feature Zee Gachette’s driving drums, acoustic guitar and earth mama vocals (often all at the same time), and Sebastien Heintz’s hypnotic psych and slide guitars and synth. They are charismatic, vibrant, original and familiar and send a shock wave of sonic power throughout the venue. Their cover of Screaming Jay Hawkins’ 60-year-old classic I Put A Spell On You is a spellbinding desert psych experience to immerse in. Keep an eye on these cats: they may be this year’s festival’s best kept secret.
Perth’s adopted blues godfather Rick Steele brought his Blues Busters to The Bridgetown Hotel for a set heavy on Stones vibes and Dylan depth, his raspy vocals and effervescent guitar skills leading from the front, as always.
It’s a brand-spanking-new Southern River Band gracing the Bridgey stage next, with only fireball-wrapped-in-a-cyclone frontman/guitarist Callum Kramer remaining from the original line-up. Coming out strong like Thornlie’s own David Lee Roth crossed with Angus Young in a pair of cowprint trousers that he somehow manages to wear with pride, their hard rock-country fried collision has the potential to be a world-beater, given the right contacts, and some honing of his songwriting. Kramer is a born entertainer, equal parts comic motormouth and in-yer-face-mama rawk n’ blinkin’ roll (no swearing, please!) icon-in-waiting, and now he may just have the right band to take him the distance.
From country-infused party rock to the doom blues of Luke Dux’s Atomic Lunchbox, we find Scott’s captivated by the introspective Bad Seeds-meets-nihilistic Stooges (especially with guest sax blower Ben Powers)-meets- dark psyche blues direct from the pitch corners of Luke Dux’s music-obsessed mind cave.
Back at The Bridgey Southern River Band are back for another set, this time with Lightning Jack in tow, and the triple guitar attack sounds so Southern Rock we could have sworn we were in Alabama. You’ve gotta love a band who can squeeze a mini drum, bass or guitar solo into every nook and cranny and never lose the crowd’s interest for a moment. SRB embody the essence of what rock n’ roll is all about: someone give them a deal, STAT!
When someone gets labelled “The Jimi Hendrix of the Hammond organ,” we simply have to check ‘em out, and The Lachey Doley Group do NOT disappoint. From soul power ballad Conviction through to funkalicious Downtown Smalltown, his mastery of the keys is exceptional, and Jan Bangma’s superb bass work and Jackie Barnes (yep, son of Jimmy) on the drums make for a huge sound. Doley introduces the next song with “let’s go from the ridiculous to the sublime,” and his porny pool-guy charisma and sultry ‘70s sleaze sounds (in the best possible way, folks) is all too much for one punter who – for reasons known only to him and his dealer, but strangely fittingly given the introduction – bursts forth from the toilet block wearing only a strip of toilet paper attached to his man-parts, which he tries to ignite with a disagreeing lighter, failing dismally before security bring him down hard. Ouch. Doley carries on, possibly oblivious, as lightning flickers through clouds in the far distance, finishing with the infectious Chef-from-South Park grind of The Only Cure For The Blues Is The Blues.
The Bondi Cigars are a much more low-key attraction, despite being practically a Sydney institution since 1989. This is their seventh time at Bridgetown, and despite being less charismatic than some of the previous acts, their set of soulful blues heavy on the groove is superb, with Country Dark, That’s How Strong My Love Is and You’re A Mystery being sure-fire highlights.
Russell Morris’ fifth Bridgetown appearance is a celebration of his 50-year career, or more accurately, his recent blues rebirth and his ‘60s and ‘70s hits, and gets the whole of The Blue Owl’s Nest on their feet. Both eras meld together brilliantly with some clever arrangements ensuring even the psychedelic pop of The Real Thing doesn’t sound at odds with the latter Sharkmouth material. Thunderclap Newman’s Something In The Air is played in tribute to one of Morris’ heroes, Tom Petty, and lead guitarist Pete Robinson (who you may know from the hard rockin’ Electric Mary) tears up a storm on Wings Of An Eagle and Dylan’s Baby Blue.
Adam Brand plays to a small but faithful crowd of country music loyalists at Geegelup, and Toby puts on a jaw-dropping unplugged-style show at the jam-packed Festival Club, but it’s clear that the biggest drawcard tonight is Ian Moss’s headlining set at the Owl’s Nest. The Cold Chisel guitarist never rushes anything, and delivers the goods for an adoring crowd with a set that ticks all the boxes. Cold Chisel are well represented by great versions of Choirgirl and the track most synonymous with Moss’s career, Bow River, and new solo tracks interspersed with favourites Tucker’s Daughter and Telephone Booth.
We’ve had a great time through Faithful Friday and Party Saturday, and Sunday is the comedown – which is not to say there is any respite from the cool tunes and great vibes. Far from it.
Most of the day’s acts have played once or twice (or more, in a few cases) already this weekend, but with the sheer amount of venues and performances, it’s impossible to catch them all, giving us a chance to see a few we missed, and catch another glimpse of some festival favourites.
That makes for another great, busy day, with Minnie Marks leading into a pre-noon slot from Lachey Doley & Group, another serve of Little Georgia’s passionate roots-filled tunes, and some of Lightning Jack’s eccentric blues guitar.
Jim Fisher & Friends again rock out, albeit more sedately in the salubrious confines of the Festival Club, and Z Star Delta are again a force of nature at The Owl’s Nest. Jan Preston’s Boogie Circus show how to rock a boogie woogie piano like there’s no tomorrow at The Festival Club, which Luke Dux & Atomic Lunchbox play sonic games with the Geegelup crowd, before giving way to Moondog and his earthy Blues Band.
Southern River Band are on hand to wind down proceedings at The Bridgetown Hotel – well, these guys don’t know how to wind anything down! Then all that’s left is the Community concert at The Blue Owl’s Nest, welcoming local volunteers and any stragglers with a weekend pass that aren’t quite ready to return to be front and centre for Monday morning.
The Teskey Brothers, Hussy Hicks, 19-Twenty, Southern River Band (AGAIN!) and Blue Shaddy all rocked the crowd and brought the festival to a euphoric end well after the sun gave up and went to bed.
Well done Bridgetown, you’ve done it again.